17-year-old kid genius built a mind-controlled prosthetic arm in his spare time

People had a wide variety of experiences during lockdown. Some created businesses, others learned a new skill and still others moved from one couch to another without spilling their plate of nachos. All worthy endeavors. Then there’s Benjamin Choi, a 17-year-old high school junior who decided to build a prosthetic arm that could be controlled by brain waves. Choi started the extensive project in 2020 at the age of 15 using his sister's 3D printer. The idea for the prosthetic arm came from a feature on "60 Minutes" about a mind-controlled prosthetic arm, but for the arm to work it required surgery to implant sensors on the motor cortex of the user's brain.

Choi told Smithsonian Magazine, “I was really, really amazed at the time because this technology was so impressive. But I was also alarmed that they require this really risky open brain surgery. And they're so inaccessible, costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”


The teen’s goal was to make the robotic limb affordable, making it more accessible. He also wanted to eliminate the need for a surgery that involves digging around in someone’s brain to get the prosthesis to work. Using his sister’s 3D printer for his first prototype was time consuming and required tedious work to connect the pieces as the printer could only print pieces 4.7 inches long. It took Choi 30 hours just to print the parts of the arm before using rubber bands and bolts to put it together. The prosthetic worked using head gestures and brain wave data.

Amazingly, the prosthetic arm wasn't Choi's first go at coding. He has been participating in robotics competitions since he was in elementary school, requiring him to not only build robots, but code them so they would move the way he wanted. He’s gone to the VEX Robotics World Championships several times and in 9th grade he taught himself computer programming languages C++ and Python by watching videos on Stack Overflow.

For now, the arm is mounted on a stand. Over the past two years, Choi has been working to perfect the arm before adding a socket, which he says will require a recipient to be custom fitted. The arm is currently on its 75th iteration. Choi is still able to maintain the affordability of the prosthetic, with manufacturing costs of around $300. Presently, a basic body-powered upper body prosthesis will run you around $7,000.

Choi works with volunteers to collect data and improve the functionality of the AI arm. The high schooler still has a way to go before the arm is complete and ready to be put on the market but that hasn’t stopped him from being recognized. He has won awards in the Microsoft Imagine Cup, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair and the National At-Home STEM Competition. He is also a recipient of a manufacturing grant from polySpectra Inc., awarded in 2020 to help with the production of the arm. polySpectra produces durable 3D material.

Choi plans to attend college to study engineering and wants to continue working on his prosthetic arm, eventually bringing it to clinical trials. If he pulls this off, it could be life changing for the 2 million people in the United States that live with the loss of a limb.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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